The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Shaker and fellow blogger (of Daily Mendacity) Patrick directed me to this DKos diary which reports that the Pentagon has decided to take “no action” on the ongoing problem of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy (which is, of course, only one place where female soldiers face the threat of being sexually assaulted by their male cohorts).

(See here for a previous post on women in the war zone dealing with the same.)

From the press release issued by Rep. Louise Slaughter, included in the referenced diary:

Washington DC. The following are excerpts from a response letter released yesterday by Acting Secretary of the Air Force Mr. Peter Teets:

"The Acting Secretary of the Air Force has reviewed the Department of Defense Inspector General's (DoD/IG's) report and the Fowler report on sexual assault problems at the AF Academy. After considering all the facts and weighing all the interests at stake, the Acting Secretary found that no administrative action is warranted against those officers identified in those reports as bearing some responsibility for Academy's sexual assault problems.

The Acting Secretary gave significant weight to their uniformly excellent and lengthy service and to the fact they were not intentionally or willfully derelict in their duties. He also found that any mistakes or misjudgments some of them may have made are mitigated by the complexity of the issues faced, the necessity of policy tradeoffs and compromises, and the difficulty of measuring program effectiveness."

Congresswoman Slaughter reacted to the announcement by making the following statement:

"It is reprehensible that the rights of sexual assault victims are so easily sidelined by the Pentagon as `too complex' to address. This is the kind of `head in the sand' approach we would have expected from the military in the 1950's; in 2005 it is an abomination. Where is the accountability?"

"What the Pentagon clearly doesn't want to discuss, and what all Americans should know, is that women are being sexually assaulted on an ongoing basis in the military and at our nation's military academies by their colleagues. Action must be taken. Until the Pentagon insists on accountability, there can be no real change and as a result, our women in uniform will continue to suffer. Is this the best we can do for young Americans who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom?"
I’m not even really sure where to begin with this, but let’s start here: I am a rape victim.

When I was 16 years old, I was (in all that all-too-pleasant vernacular) date-raped by someone whom I had briefly dated. It was the first event in a series stretching across three very long years, during which I attempted to get various authorities involved to no result. Though the attacks were horrific in ways I cannot describe, the loneliness and futility of trying to put an end to the nightmare are what have had the most lasting effects on me, having changed me forever in ways that I am still realizing years later.

It is terrible to be a victim of sexual assault; it is unbearable to be revictimized by being left to deal with it on one’s own, to watch as the offender goes unpunished, to hear the actions of those who enable such abuses to continue be excused. When I found myself in dark moments, opening my skin with my own fingernails or the methodical scraping of an emery board in the same spot, until I bled and bled, to numb my anguish by finding solace in a pain I could control, it was not my rapist who filled my thoughts. The question I wanted answered was why does no one care?

To be sure, it was hard to believe the champion swimmer and honors student who was the monster under my bed could have been capable of the things he did—just as it is, to many, inconceivable that some of the same men who would bravely put their lives on the line in service of their country could be the perpetrators of such horrific acts against fellow soldiers. And it is this disbelief, and the somehow uneradicatable suspicion with which rape victims are regarded, that allowed what happened to me to happen, and allows now what is happening to our female soldiers who have been victims of sexual assault. That the problem is “complex” should not be a deterrent but instead a cause for resolve to find a solution.

I am disgusted and enraged by the Pentagon’s reaction to this problem. It is indeed not the best we can do for our female soldiers, and it is a poor message to send to women outside the armed forces, too. We don’t care about rape victims. It’s no different than the apathetic authorities I encountered, and to know that this no-accountability precedent is being set from the country’s leadership is discouraging, and speaks, sadly, to the fact that women’s bodies are still not seen as their own, still given less value than the careers of their male counterparts.

I am angry, yes. I am angry about what happened to me, and I am angry about what continues to happen to female soldiers. And yet, I am mostly sad—sad for the women who are only beginning the journey I have been on for the last 14 years—and hopeful that they will continue to speak out, and that women like Rep. Louise Slaughter will continue her fight to see things change, and that by telling my story, I will let someone one there know that they are not alone, even though it most certainly feels that way.

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